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  • Matty Layne Glasgow

Three Poems

cactus mouth,

or opuntia macrocentra kush

wake, wake

& bake these west

texas cheeks, these

garden city gums

they’re so thirsty

to hollow

arid me

terrain me

until I bear

only you

take you in

these lamesa lips

where you bury

your spines

in my sand-fleshed

cheeks—a sore

memory—so purple

prickly pear kush

you wet succulent

you thorny yellow

blossom, this

mouthful didn’t come

from some small pot

on a windowsill

it’s a wild one

just off an anxious

gravel road where

I’m on my knees

looking as far

as my glazed eyes

can see into

a fearless flatline


some other

joyous kind of desert

My Body Lies,

or boundary // fluidity

Along the shore of the Rio Bravo, we watch

the silty current sunder your home from mine—

a slow flow of brown water that cuts through

Santa Elena’s Canyon. On the opposite bank,

a girl stands in faded grey jeans, her arms drown

in a bulky poncho, her body breathless beneath

quilted green & red. She sinks into the muddy

shoreline like a dream, eyes tracing the patchwork

of our entwined fingers as we follow the river’s edge.

Some things are made to be crossed, some flesh

is meant to tangle. You are a man & I am a man

& we are contained by no boundary on this day.

For 1,254 miles, the Rio Bravo serves as the natural

border between the U.S. state of Texas and Mexico.

My body lies. I want to love a man, a woman.

I am the girl. I want to be in the arms of another,

taste her, & yearn for some soft-petaled flavor

of truth. I part my lips, but everything going in

& coming out deceives me. My words are muddy,

too soft to rise toward the unforgiving sun like

a canyon wall. Too cold & wet in the shadows of

red rock to be a flame, but all of me needs to flicker.

What is the natural boundary between us? I want

to wade in that water, to feel the current that keeps

me on the southern bank & you on the other side.

I want to drown with all the others who want more.

The vilest carcasses are the floaters. They turn green,

swell up like a balloon, & stink to high heaven.

The girl is a ghost. She is every woman & every man

who ever wanted. Her poncho bleeds until she wears

the grey of her jeans on her flesh, drapes her loss over

her empty chest, sinks & slips away into any soft, cold

earth that will take her. The girl is a ghost. He needs

to be the girl, before she drowned in her own body,

before she understood she was not a girl, but a boy.

This is what it feels like to be trapped. A ghost has no

body, only regret. The girl is a woman, a man. The girl

is a dream. The girl is my dead mother. The girl is.

Since 1998, more than 6,000 migrants have died trying

to cross the border from Mexico into the United States.

What happens the day we can no longer take refuge

in our own hearts? Remember, the will to cross anything

is to wade in one’s courage, to trust our flesh-wrapped

bones to cut through the current. Tell me, who guards

the borders of my body? You are the girl on the southern

bank. I am standing alone, toes sinking into the mud

because I want you beside me before the currents quicken

& rise, like those years we can never return to. I want

to trace your frailty with my fingertips, your slender arms

swimming in quilted fabric, to look you in your emerald

eyes, to lay my head upon your hollow chest & squeeze

the life back into you. The girl on the southern bank

is always sinking, always watching the silty current

until it runs dry & we meet once more in the riverbed.

Note: “boundary // fluidity” incorporates quotes & information from Brendan Borrel’s article “Ghosts of the Rio Grande” & Collin Schultz’s article “Nearly 6,000 Migrants Have Died Along the Mexican-U.S. Border Since 2000” as interludes between each section of the poem.

Jazz June

after Gwendolyn Brooks

I. Urban Dictionary says

it’s slang for doing the nasty,

like a sweet saxophone moan:

summertime & the brass is easy

& I feel good & I just want to be

easy with you. Well, I want to be

something nasty too, so give me

the name. Call me Jazz June,

& I’ll be a queen as long as life

is this song—my heart a sprig

of clover. Listen to its petaled beat

as it sprouts from my shaved chest

draped in Ella’s sequined shimmer.

Blossoms in my wig like Billie, so this

body feels close to a woman, again.

No blackface; this isn’t that kind

of show. Drag is about the look

& the song, so put some Nina on.

Play me Etta & Sarah Vaughan

’cause this boy likes to sway low.

I’ll read Gwendolyn real cool, real

slow; this is that kind of show.

Some nights we just need a poem

or a song, especially in Texas

& Mississippi. Goddam.

II. sweet, soft things

I’m lying on the shag carpet in my grandparents’ living room,

threads fraying in all the shades from brown to green, yellowed

& golden & in between, like Texas sod in late June—parched

& dying. I’m thirsty too, for a dream to speak to, to call my own.

This is that dream. From the dream’s kitchen, apples simmer in

cinnamon, the sour flesh of Granny Smiths bubble in a sweet

earthen spice. Soon the apples will soften, like the woman over

the stove, her red curls thinner than in those photos on the wall.

Same color though, fiercely bright & aflame. Nanny stirs with

some fire too, dips her shoulders to that Boogie Woogie Bugle

Boy. I’m eight, so I still think the Andrews sisters can sing. True

they’ve got some brass, but no slow moan. Goddam, it’s been such

a jazzless June. Until she comes for me with that earthen tune on

the radio, at last. Etta’s voice croons on, so I know Nanny’s still

groovin’, with a deeper lean now ’cause she sure ain’t turning that

dial. I spread my fingers wide, bury them in the carpet. They are

flames from the friction, dying to press their heat to something

smooth & sweet, to fill the empty spaces of my body with summer

& this slow song, to press upon my cheek the thrill of a soft thing

burned. I don’t know if Nanny’s really moving along to that slow

simmer of percussion, to that stovetop beat, but those apples sure do

smell sweet. Someday, I’ll be a sweet, soft thing too—a tender fruit

that tastes like home. But this is just a dream where I press my palms

into the carpet like a bone-dry lawn, where I reach for a woman’s

brawny voice & let my hips sing along, where all my flames can touch

are those dead or dying things that make a boy’s little body move.

III. Jazz June used to thin gin

before I changed my name & took

to the stage, back when I was just a boy

thirsty for something to change my state

of mind. I would go over to your house

when your parents were overseas, palms

sweaty & heart pulsing like a trombone’s

heavy breath before Etta’s voice comes in,

& she just wanna, & I just wanna be easy

with you. I remember how you’d empty

enough from each bottle—like Hendrick’s

or Tanqueray or Bombay Sapphire—so we

could forget what we both really wanted,

or maybe we’d remember. You joked about

putting your lips around me. I just laughed

& watched the way your body filled those

jerseys & shorts to the brim with something

worth wanting. I just wanna, I just wanna,

but we’d just fill the bottles back up with

water, ’cause some poisons are too strong,

too dangerous. I learned to dilute those urges,

the ones from the empty spaces of my body.

I just drank until I could forget, until I could

listen to how she didn’t want me sad & blue,

she just wanna, she just wanna. Me, too.

IV. My daddy had a trumpet

I never heard him play.

Found it in a velvet case—

rusty brass bent & buoyed

into some pitchless thing.

He let me wrap my mouth

around that instrument,

blow all kinds of ungodly

moans out its bell. From

my bedroom, from out back,

I’d raise all kinds of brassy

hell. He showed me how to

empty a full water key too,

how to press my finger to a

curved clip & watch the spit

drain from the valve. Yes,

my daddy wanted me to be

a sweet & tidy little thing;

he told me never to swallow

the fruits of my labor. Daddy,

I tried, but I just love to play

& play, & when I’ve got my

mind on that slow moan, those

notes, they sweat in the thick

bayou air, they taste like the

sweet sucrose of any fruit.

V. The first time I jazzed june

was in the front seat of a 1986 Ford pick-up.

He parked between some baseball fields

just off the shore in La Porte. That summer

night was dark & silent & awful. All I could hear

was our breath, faint & light as trumpet gasps,

but no crescendo moan, only the sticky, humid

mess of our sweat & Texas heat. Before I left,

he told me it might have been better if I’d used

lube. Even spit would work, he said. I just thought

of that water key draining. The fruit of that

trumpet’s labor, how my child lips made

a broken horn let go of a rusty song. All we

heard in the cab of that old truck was the soft,

quiet hum of waves on the shore. When I came

back from school the next summer, we met

again. Different truck. Same boy. This time

he reminded me to bring all we’d need to make

things go smoothly. That June heat made our

flesh so limber, & we both made something like

music that afternoon—a reprise of a softer tune,

first so slow & low, then faster with more moan.

I still don’t remember his name. Let me call him

Jazz ’cause it was June, & our breath was hot-

mouthed, just wanting to be nasty on a smooth

neck, an open ear. He laid there & asked, Do you

think you can go again? I just sang, Again, again.

VI. Urban Dictionary says

it’s something we do after we

thin gin & before we die soon,

like a swan song, or Billie’s last

recording—the ones that left her lips

too soon. Where does our last breath

blow? I’m still here, a flicker of silver

heels on stage, but I’ve seen thinner days.

You can feel them in the fraying threads

of this corset, in my love handles’ soft

flesh uncinched after the show. But while

I’m up there, running my palms down

my shaved thighs with the friction

of a child’s fingers through shag carpet,

I still hear an earthen tone,

a deep dirge moan from the grave.

I know that’s where I’m heading too,

but I wanna stay & shake the thick

bayou air, smell the bay through

a cracked window. I wanna fuck

a time, until we fill those days with

song. I just wanna, I just wanna

move & groove with you.

Note: “Jazz June” is inspired by language from Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool” & lyrics from Ella Fitzgerald’s “Summertime,” Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” & “Mississippi Goddam,” Etta James’ “I Just Want to Make Love to You” & “At Last,” Billie Holliday’s “All of Me,” & the Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”

Matty Layne Glasgow is the author of deciduous qween, selected by Richard Blanco as the winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award and forthcoming from Red Hen Press in 2019. His poems appear in BOAAT, Crazyhorse, The Missouri Review, Muzzle Magazine, Nimrod, Poetry Daily, and elsewhere. He lives in Houston, Texas where he teaches with Writers in the Schools and adjuncts his life away.

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